February 11

A Hot Air Balloon Ride in Spain: What Is It Really Like?


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Hot Air Balloon Ride Experience in Spain

Hot Air Balloon Ride Experience in Spain

Rising in a Hot Air Balloon

A number of things are wrong. First, I’m standing in a field surrounded by darkness, my mind pulling the covers over its head and mumbling into its pillow. Second, I’m in Spain and it’s summer, yet frost dances along the grass and flames snarl into the air like snake tongues at an all-night rave.

Third, and most significantly, I’m about to climb into an oversized picnic basket that’s going to whisk me hundreds of metres above the earth with not so much as a seatbelt, a lifejacket or a parachute on hand. There’s not even going to be a well-groomed routine pointing out the nearest emergency exit.

I’m about to step into a hot air balloon. And, though I don’t like to say it, I feel nervous.

Related: What is it like to go skydiving?

Hot Air Balloon Flames

A man unfolds a giant tent, laying it in front of an colossal hairdryer and we all wait. The fabric billows slowly off the ground, air easing into its edges and rippling through to its tip.

I’m surprised at how large it is. After only a few minutes, there’s space for men to walk inside, a chamber larger than a marquee that glows an eerie soft green.

I’ve dreamed about hot air ballooning for years. As a child, it seemed a great adventure, as a teenager a romantic hope and then in my twenties, a thrilling chance to see the world. Those years have passed, however, gathering along in their wake an appreciation of pain, of accidents, and of multi-faceted safety concerns.

I don’t believe in mystical karma. I really don’t, yet is there a whisper of unexplained uncertainty in my semiconscious, slumbering mind? I have tried and tried and tried to get to this stage before, in many different countries with many different alarm clocks. I’ve taken time off work, driven through darkness, stayed up late and monitored the wind, the thunder and the raindrops before enforced cancellations reminded me time and time again how impotent we all are in the great scheme of things. How utterly insignificant.

Inside Hot Air Balloon

After a while, I gave up trying. Perhaps some things are not meant to be. Then, a few months ago, the chance appeared again.

Then disappeared.

Maybe some things are not meant to be.

Now I stand in that field, mist curling around the trees like an 18th century painting. My breath hangs in the air and I watch the tent take on the shape of a nuclear-powered lightbulb.

Maybe, maybe things aren’t meant to be. Maybe all that science means nothing. Perhaps never-ending near-misses really do mean that I should stay away, that the malevolence of the weather has protected me from danger and disaster in the sky.

I climb in.

Hot Air Balloon on Ground

I’m with friends and colleagues, a free-spirited crowd who don’t seem to have noticed the power-lines, the thin balloon fabric, the fire, and the insubstantial wicker basket.

Before I realise it, we’re gone. Not in a lurching, crushing, driving sense, but in a surreal, dreamlike flotation that teases us away from the earth.

The tyre tracks in the dew grow smaller and smaller. The second balloon fills my viewfinder before fading back into the field. On the horizon, the sun wins the race against the clouds and the slopes of the Pyrenees take shape, dressed in their finest British Racing Green.

The wicker feels stable and I can’t hear the wind.

We glide. Silently, weightlessly, floating through the sky.

Hot Air Balloon Takeoff

Sunlight spreads across the forested volcanoes, highlighting each rise and fall with the excitement and care of a new mother introducing her baby.

I lean over the edge of the basket with a smile I haven’t felt since childhood.

This is the world we live in.

This is a brand new day.

And this, almost embarrassingly, is a dream come true.

I think about science, about superstition, about hope and dreams and joy and opportunity.

Earth, air, fire and water. That’s what ancient Greece believed to be the building blocks of the world. And from where I’m standing, only one of those is missing.

A friend taps me on the shoulder and passes me a glass. It’s cava rather than water, but I hope the Greeks won’t mind.

The bubbles sparkle as the sun strides onto the stage and the contours of Catalonia flow past below.

I know it’s not fashionable to say this, but I’m really, really happy.

Hot Air Balloon Pyrenees

Watching the others float by… Above the clouds in a hot air balloon…

 Arranging a Hot Air Balloon Ride

My first (successful) hot air balloon ride came courtesy of Visit Costa Brava. All views, however, are my own. Obviously.

I flew with Vol de Coloms, a local firm that organises hot air balloon rides complete with cava and a Catalan brunch afterwards. Great service, great fun, highly recommended.

Have you ever been in a hot air balloon? Or waited for years for the chance to do something?



    • One of the best things I’ve ever done…Wonderful!


  • For a few months I have had this in my mind…I hope to repeat your trip shortly!


    • If you’re in Spain, I’d really recommend this particular company. Fantastic service and great banter ;) Enjoy!


  • It’s been a dream of mine, and the way you describe it so beautifully is exactly how I imagine it to be. Gorgeous writing again.


  • ayngelina says:

    I would love love love to go on a hot air balloon ride, truly jealous :)


    • I would love to see hot air balloon bacon pics…;)


  • This is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read. So eloquent. I love this and love your telling of this hot air balloon experience.


  • Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says:

    Beautiful post. I have always wanted to go on a hot air balloon, but I’m not going to lie, I will probably have the same fears as you did before I step into the basket.


    • Well, the adrenaline rush makes the dreamy part later on feel that much more rewarding ;)


  • Dave and Deb says:

    This is very high on our list. Even more so after this read. Great article Abi. Thanks for bringing us with you!


    • Thanks D&D…Very surprised to have found something you two haven’t done! I imagine you’ll absolutely love it…


  • I am always in love with the way that the world creeps up on the morning with the golden light filling everything slowly. *sigh* I wish I was a morning person.


  • It’s funny, I’ve been on several hot air balloon rides but they never make me that nervous…I think it’s because I have more confidence in science than in my own body as far as these things are concerned. The ones I have been on are always first thing in the morning… I hate getting up early – but must say I loved kidnapping my husband for a birthday once and driving in darkness without him having a clue and then watching the day dawn from high in the air… so peaceful.


    • Wow, what a lovely romantic plan…That gives me an idea…


  • I always wonder how they know where they’ll come down — and how they coordinate the pick-up!

    Beautiful photos, really lovely. I think I’ll have to do this sometime soon. ;)


    • It was fun watching the van drive around and around below as we tried to find a safe spot for landing…


  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam says:

    Like Ayngelina, I am very jealous of you right now. :)


    • Well, if the weather plays nicely I may be back in a balloon next week!


  • Lovely, Abi! I already saw your Facebook set, but I loved reading your experience play by play. I’ve gone sky diving before (in Spain actually) but hot air ballooning is still on the to-do list.


    • I loved both – but the hot air balloon ride was far more peaceful! Plus, you could tweet mid-air ;)


  • Nomadic Samuel says:

    Like Ayng & Ray, I’m highly jealous! What an experience :)


  • WOWOW. I need to give hot air balloons another chance. I hated it the one time I went. It was so cold I thought I was going to die, and the basket was so low that I thought I was going to fall right out. It was not like your trip at all!


    • What a shame! We were bundled up in scarves, hats and gloves…and I did give the edge of the basket a healthy amount of respect. It did look as though a rush of enthusiasm would have toppled me over the edge…


  • Oooh! I’ve never gone on a hot air balloon ride–the idea of it scares me a bit–but with those views, I think I just might have to. I want to skydive, but that is probably a much more rushed way to see things from above :) Glad you enjoyed it so much!


    • W-e-lll, the parachute part of the skydive feels a little like being in a hot air balloon. But the freefall means no camera ;)


  • Adore your blog! And thought this was such a beautifully written and photographed piece that I featured it on my blog’s Wayfarer Wednesday post this week. I think my readers would love to read about your fantastic travels!! I know I do! :)


  • I can’t blame you a bit for being nervous. I would be, too. I have not done this but think I should give it a try even though just thinking about it makes my head spin. Beautiful photos, by the way!


    • It’s such a beautiful way to see the world – go for it!


  • Abi, your imagery and colours transported me right there. I too took my first hot air balloon flight, and blogged about it – it sure was a magical experience and I could really relate to your post!


  • Amazing. This has been my long time dream to do :)


    • Thank you. There’s so much to see in Spain – so many different sides and so much more than sun and sandy beaches ;)


  • This is also done in Africa. A case in point, Maasai Mara in Kenya and Serengeti in Tanzania. They offer incredible wildlife safari experience especially during the Wildebeest Migratin


  • We have definitely waited years – 11to be exact! We were married in a hot air balloon in 2002, but it was too windy that day to even inflate the balloon for our photos. It’s high time we finally got our ride!


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